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June 2011 events planned to celebrate 25th anniversary of Chicago Vietnam veterans parade

 

NAVY PIER RALLY, CONCERT, BANQUET DINNER & MORE SLATED

 

Back in June 1986, what was originally envisioned as a modestly sized parade to honor Vietnam veterans quickly blossomed into one of the largest events of its kind—with more than 175,000 veterans and family members proudly marching down the streets of Chicago to the adulation of more than 500,000 spectators.

 Now, nearly 25 years later, a Windy City reunion is planned to commemorate that historic event and bring Vietnam veterans and loved ones back together to honor their efforts.

 Set for the weekend of June 17 to 19, 2011, “Welcome Home 2011” comprises several events in downtown Chicago that are planned to celebrate the silver anniversary of the Chicago Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Parade—which remains the largest known parade of its kind ever assembled in the United States. Events planned include:

  • A kick-off rally at Navy Pier (600 E. Grand Ave.) on Saturday morning, June 18, consisting of opening ceremonies, a salute to veterans in attendance recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, and live performances by Jackie Marx and Britt Small.
  • A banquet dinner at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel (17 E. Monroe St.) on Saturday evening, led by Master of Ceremonies Bill Kurtis, which will pay tribute to those in attendance, including veterans, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, and Mayor Richard M. Daley.
  • An interfaith invocation on Sunday morning, June 19, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza (Wacker Drive and State Street) led by Vietnam veteran Rev. John Steer.
  • A day-long concert on Sunday (location soon to be announced) featuring performances by Dennis DeYoung (formerly of Styx), jazz band Kimotion, classic rock cover band ARRA, Joe Cantafio and the 101st Rock Division, and more.
  • An exhibit of art and photos submitted by veterans at the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St.) all weekend long.
  • A “Moving Wall” display— a half-size replica of the Washington, DC Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which has been touring the country for more than 20 years—at Navy Pier all weekend long. 

Robert Kolling, a Purple Heart recipient Vietnam veteran and chairman of Welcome Home 2011, said that most planned events are free and open to the public, except for the banquet dinner (which requires pre-registration and a fee to be determined) and the concert (for which tickets will be sold in advance). Additionally, veterans and their families can book June 17-19 accommodations at The Palmer House Hilton Hotel at a discounted rate. Coupons for discounted entertainment attractions will also be provided at the hotel and Navy Pier. For more information and links to register, purchase tickets and book lodging, visit www.ServiceandHonor.org. 

Kolling volunteered to chair the events after previous chairman Chuck Lofrano succumbed last August to pancreatic cancer, which was likely triggered from his exposure to Agent Orange while serving with the Marines during the Vietnam War. Lofrano, author of the recently published book “In Spite of It All,” which details his experiences during and after the war, was the catalyst for planning a 25th anniversary salute to the parade and its participants, which has been in the works for more than a year. In spearheading the June 2011 events, Kolling seeks to honor the legacy and efforts of Lofrano, as well as the late Tom Stack, who served as founder of the parade 25 years ago.

 While he is hopeful that the Welcome Home 2011 festivities will be well attended, Kolling noted that it would be hard to top the turnout for the 1986 parade—a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. Stack was inspired to organize that event after witnessing a similar parade for Vietnam vets in New York City attended by an estimated 25,000. In the end, the Chicago parade attracted nearly eight times as many people and influenced countless others.

“Our parade in 1986 helped to alter the country’s perspective on Vietnam veterans,” said Kolling. “At that time, many Americans had a difficult time accepting the plight of veterans of the Vietnam War. That historic parade promoted a healing process that generated a grassroots movement, which laid the groundwork for more dignity, respect and recognition for modern day soldiers returning from foreign wars. It was touchstone event in our society that created greater awareness of and reverence for American war veterans today.” 

“When we came home from Vietnam, it seemed as if nobody wanted to talk to us or do anything for us,” said Roger McGill, a Vietnam veteran who served as program chairman of the 1986 parade committee and is now the veteran’s liaison for Welcome Home 2011. “We felt unwelcome among veteran’s organizations and neglected by the government in terms of benefits, health care and recognition. Our parade 25 years ago helped to change a lot of that.” 

McGill said that the Welcome Home 2011 events “are not only designed to celebrate the parade’s anniversary, but to serve as passing of the torch to the next generation of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. We want to be sure these veterans don’t have to go through what we experienced.”

Deana Olson, Lofrano’s daughter and aide-de-camp for Welcome Home 2011, said she’s proud that the events her father helped coordinate are continuing as planned.

 “I’ll never forget the camaraderie and sense of brotherhood I felt from that crowd of veterans during that parade in 1986,” said Olson, who will give a spoken tribute to her late father during the kickoff rally. “It was an unbelievable experience, as I’m sure it will be next June.”

 Welcome Home 2011 is seeking sponsors, donors and volunteers. To learn more about the events or to lend your assistance to this worthy cause, please visit www.ServiceandHonor.org, phone (312) 925-5506, or e-mail vicechair@serviceandhonor.org.

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